Q. All right, my day is now complete. I just got yelled at by a white-haired old lady in a wheelchair for trying to help her into the intersection when the light turned green. You know What she said? "F-- off, buddy." Nice?
No doubt, I'm a male chauvinist pig for trying to help her, and also a racist and an oppressor of the poor, handicapped and elderly. I hve learned my lesson about that.
I promise never to try to be a gentleman again. But you know what else? I am damn sick of people hating me for trying to be a nice guy. And I can't stand it any longer.
I am going to go out and punch the first sweet little old lady I see right in the mouth. What do you think of that? Huraah for modern manners.
A. There, there. Please try to calm yourself. Miss Manners doesn't hate you. Miss Manners knows you meant well. You just sob quietly on Miss Manners' shoulder for a minute, and when you feel up to it, she will explain to you what happened.
All right? Feel a little better now?
The desire to help people is a noble one. But you must first make sure that they are in need of help. Surely the smallest Boy Scout has learned by now that it doesn't count as a good deed to help an old lady across the street if she doesn't want to cross the street -- or if she doesn't want to be helped.
You made an assumption that the old woman in the wheelchair must be in need of help; must be, in a word, helpless. But how to do you suppose that she got to the intersection where you saw her? Did she fall out of a nursing home window, wheelchair and all?
No, you have to assume that she got there after having set out, knowing as all rational beings do, the extent of her own capabilities. You also have to realize, when you think about it, that a wheelchair occupant is bound to know more about how to handle a wheelchair than you, as a passerby.
Your assistance my have endangered not only her dignity, as a person entitled to be considered in control of herself unless she specifically asks for help, but also her safety.
Miss Manners dearly hopes you will not discontinue helping damsels in distress, and mensels, too, for that matter. Just make sure, before you do so, that they are in distress, helping someone into distress, however courteously, is not a good deed.
Q. We have received six silver wine glasses for our most recent wedding anniversary. Would it be proper to use them when serving wine at a formal dinner, or are they really just for show?
A. Miss Manners does not believe in keeping useful objects from their use unless they have -- as in the case, say, of an Etruscan vase -- outlived their usefulness and may be put on a shelf to be respected in old age.
Metal and wine are not, however, the happiest of combinations. The silver could lend an undersirable flavor to your wine; it also conducts temperature and could, if filled with chilled wine, give your guests quite a shock.
Your glasses could be given a new use in which they could also be prettily shown off. You might put trailing flowers in them and use them at intervals along the dining room table for decoration.